What does the term cellulitis indicate?

Updated: Jun 14, 2019
  • Author: Thomas E Herchline, MD; Chief Editor: Michael Stuart Bronze, MD  more...
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Answer

The term cellulitis is commonly used to indicate a nonnecrotizing inflammation of the skin and subcutaneous tissues, a process usually related to acute infection that does not involve the fascia or muscles. Cellulitis is characterized by localized pain, swelling, tenderness, erythema, and warmth.

Cellulitis has been classically considered to be an infection without formation of abscess (nonpurulent), purulent drainage, or ulceration. At times, cellulitis may overlap with other conditions, so that the macular erythema coexists with nodules, areas of ulceration, and frank abscess formation (purulent cellulitis) (see Presentation). The following images illustrate some of these presentations.

Burns complicated by cellulitis. The larger lesion Burns complicated by cellulitis. The larger lesion is a second-degree burn (left), and the smaller lesion is a first-degree burn (right), each with an expanding zone of erythema consistent with cellulitis.
Severe cellulitis of the leg in a woman aged 80 ye Severe cellulitis of the leg in a woman aged 80 years. The cellulitis developed beneath a cast and was painful and warm to the touch. Significant erythema is evident. The margins are irregular but not raised. An ulcerated area is visible in the center of the photograph.
Swelling seen in cellulitis involving the hand. In Swelling seen in cellulitis involving the hand. In a situation with hand cellulitis, always rule out deep infection by imaging studies or by obtaining surgical consultation.
Mild cellulitis with a fine lacelike pattern of er Mild cellulitis with a fine lacelike pattern of erythema. This lesion was only slightly warm and caused minimal pain, which is typical for the initial presentation of mild cellulitis.

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